Donald Duck animator Barks dies at age 99

Hand behind 'poultry in motion' developed worldwide following

HOLLYWOOD — Cartoonist Carl Barks, who drew Donald Duck comic books for three decades, turning the quacking, cranky waterfowl into an unlikely, universally loved Everyman, died Friday at age 99 at his home in southern Oregon, the Walt Disney Co. said.

Associates of Barks in Grants Pass, Ore., where he lived for many years and maintained a studio, said he died of leukemia.

As an artist, Barks was expert at creating “poultry in motion” and invented the character Scrooge McDuck, a comical miser who leapt from the pages of the Walt Disney Comics & Stories to become a full-fledged film cartoon character.

Barks, whose work went unnoticed for years, with many thinking that Walt Disney himself drew Donald Duck comics, developed a worldwide following for his vividly colored works.

After he retired from drawing comic books in 1966, he became a painter, and some of his portraits of Disney characters fetched more than $200,000.

Born and raised on a ranch in Merril, Ore., Barks liked to recall that he grew up with “well-armed cowboys” and people who had fought in the Indian wars.

In the early 1930s, Barks began as an “in-betweener” at the Disney studios, drawing frames between action in animated cartoons.

He then transferred to the story department and helped create the gags and stories of early Donald Duck cartoons — including having Donald turned upside down and shaved by robot barbers while he squawked to no avail in the short “Modern Inventions.” Donald was already a cartoon character when Barks went to work on the animated shorts.

By the early 1940s, Barks had left Disney and gone to Western Publishing, which produced Walt Disney comic books, and there he gave the famous duck a career-prolonging personality transplant.

“I get credit for practically raising Donald Duck,” Barks told the Baltimore Sun in a 1996 interview.

“He was just a noisy, quarrelsome brat in the movies. When I started doing the comics in 1943, I couldn’t do enough stories with him like that. So I changed Donald’s character. I put him in a role where he had to act intelligently and speak well enough to put his thoughts across. He’s a lot like a lot of us, though, wanting to speak his mind.”

He liked to say also that he had turned Donald into an Everyman, though one who quacks.

Barks also created Scrooge McDuck, his gold bin stuffed with gold and jewels. “He’s a stingy old millionaire miser, but people love him because they see that he has as many troubles as people who don’t have money,” Barks told the Sun.

Barks created “Ducksburg,” the town where Donald and his crew lived, and he used photographs from National Geographic to inspire the backgrounds for the stories he drew when Donald and his nephews — Huey, Dewey and Louie — went on adventures.

In the more than two decades that he drew the monthly 10-page Donald Duck segment for Walt Disney Comics & Stories, he also developed other characters, such as Donald’s super-lucky cousin Gladstone Gander and the addled inventor Gyro Gearloose.

Paid only about $45 a page for his comic book art, Barks did not start to prosper until his painting career took off.

Disney had given him permission to paint its characters when he retired in 1966 but withdrew its permission a decade later, when fans began to sell photos of his work for $500 apiece.

For the next five years, Barks painted scenes of American history using duck characters while the price of his Donald Duck portraits soared.

Finally, Disney relented and renewed permission for him to paint its characters. His prices then reached into the six figures.

Popular on Variety

More Scene

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content